A common enough word, but I can't find it in any dictionary. It probably doesn't qualify as slang, but apparently it hasn't become an 'official' word yet. I love words like that.

1. Cold, or chilly. Nippish applies only to the weather, not people or objects. It usually means chill enough to be vaguely uncomfortable, but not really cold yet, but you can also say 'quite nippish', i.e., very cold. It may also imply windy or gusty. "It's a bit nippish out tonight." From the verb 'nip', by way of nippy.

This is by far the most common usage of the word nippish. People may not recognize other usages, but this one everyone seems to be familiar with.

2. A little bit hungry. Desiring to eat, but not so much that you want to say that you're actually hungry; ready for a snack. "I'm feeling a bit nippish." This sense probably also comes from the verb 'nip', 'to bite'.

I suspect that nippish probably originated as a piece of early 1900s English slang, although I haven't found much evidence of this yet. Both of the above usages are often accompanied by words like 'quite' or 'a bit', and have a definite British feel. I think that Bertie Wooster might say nippish, although I can't find the word used in any of Wodehouse's works that have been entered on project Gutenberg.

And others: I did a quick Google survey. I looked at 45 sites that used the word 'nippish' in a sense that was clear from context. I ignored sites that used Nippish as a proper name, or as a nonsense word. 44% used nippish in sense 1.; 27% used it in sense 2.. There were also four other uses, which I choose not to consider 'primary' definitions.

  • 11% -- Prone to nipping. Said of puppies and fish (fish nipping eachother, not at the fishing line).
  • 7% -- Petty or snippety; it's hard to pin down an exact meaning. In some cases this may be a mismorphism of snippy.
  • 7% -- Japanese, particularly the language: "speaking nippish." This seems to be a nasty or disrespectful way of referring to the language and people of Nippon.
  • 4% -- Having to do with a nipple; nipple-like. 4% translates to only two sites.

So, that's what I know about nippish. What do you know about nippish? Have you found it used in any older books? Did your Australian grandmother say nippish? Maybe you have never heard this word before; if so, where do you live? And if you have access to a dictionary (OED, slang, etc.) that contains this word, let me know!

Doyle says: re Nippish: In the OED, no separate "nippish" listing, but "nipping" is "Of language: Sharp, stinging, sarcastic."

Wertperch says re Nippish: Hm. I find no written sources - the British National Corpus doesn't have it, and Urbandictionary.com has it as a derogotary term for those of Japanese extraction...

Speedygonzalez says re Nippish: I grew up using the word "nippish" to mean "hungry" and so am surprised that anyone would think it unusual. I grew in West London: Hammersmith, Chiswick, and Ealing, to be precise. I'm not that old either: I've used it, and heard it used in this sense in the 70s and 80s, possibly the 90s too. (In 1992 I moved to the U.S.). It is considered by those who use it to be colloquial or slang.

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